UC Riverside’s Tabla Conference Hailed as a Success

More than 130 guests attend event for Queer and Trans students with ties to South Asia, the Middle East and North Africa

group photo

Some of the more than 130 participants at the inaugural Tabla Conference at the University of California, Riverside. Photo courtesy of UCR LGBT Center

RIVERSIDE, Calif. — More than 130 people from 30 different colleges and universities attended the inaugural Tabla Conference at the University of California, Riverside on Saturday, Jan. 18, 2014. The conference is thought to have been the first college conference to explore the intersections between sexuality, gender identity and expression, and cultural ties to South Asia, the Middle East and North Africa.

UC Riverside LGBT Center Director Nancy Tubbs said organizers and participants hailed the conference as a great success.

“Many participants expressed their difficulty in finding community around these multiple identities, so the Tabla Conference was a rare opportunity,” Tubbs said. “Likewise, other participants were excited to learn more about being better allies.”

“Tabla was such an amazing and meaningful experience that I know I will carry with me the rest of my life,” said UCR student Megan Awwad, who helped organize the conference. “The different workshops and performances allowed us to explore both our painful and joyous experiences. Tabla allowed for us to cry, laugh, heal and to be empowered all while creating an atmosphere of a chosen family.”

The conference was organized by UCR student group NAMES & Neighbors with the support of the LGBT Resource Center and the Middle Eastern Student Center. Co-sponsors included the departments of Ethnic Studies, Women’s Studies, Media & Cultural Studies, and Creative Writing, the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs, the Associated Students Program Board, the UCLA LGBT Campus Resource Center, and POSE, a Southern Californian organization of Iranian American LGBT Allies.

The conference included a performances by hip-hop artist Tru Bloo and spoken-word artists Amir Rabiyah and Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha, who also did the keynote address. All three also led sessions on subjects including disability justice, writing, and hip hop.

A poster for the Tabla Conference.

A poster for the Tabla Conference.

“Tabla bonded people in a way no one ever thought or expected was possible and we were able to become brothers and sisters of this unique family,” said UCR alum Shayan Hashim. “The diverse creativity was apparent through workshops of art, hip-hop, healing rituals, religious and political discussions, and simple yet important readings.”

UCR Middle Eastern Student Center Director Marcela Ramirez said the Tabla conference was “another of UCR’s many firsts when it comes to creating inclusive spaces for students with multiple identities to honor their history and cultural ancestry.”

“Making those healing connections and building community are a part of the UCR student experience. I was honored to be a part of this ground breaking conference and cheers to NAMES and Neighbors for a job well done,” she added.

Tubbs said that many participants said they hope the conference will return in 2015, but added that organizers may consider a different format.

“Tabla may return, but perhaps in a retreat format,” Tubbs said. “This would allow more opportunities for deeper dialogue and mutual support. As our speaker Amir Rabiyah pointed out, this is a community that cannot take for granted finding people who share our experiences.”

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